Anatomy of a Lesson

What actually happens in an online English lesson?

I am asked this question often. Many people have no idea what could go on during a lesson. They assume there must be some talking. Teaching happens at some point. Do I speak Chinese? How can the students understand me when I speak English if they don’t speak English?

Here’s how it really works:

  • Every lesson is a little like a conversation. There are introductions, topics and a goodbye at the end. All of my lessons start with some kind of introduction and warm-up for the students. The students might be coming into the online class from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them have been doctors stopping for a break in the middle of their shift. Others are housewives taking classes while their kids are out at school. All of them need a few minutes to tune into hearing, interpreting and speaking English.
  • After the introduction, we move through the topic of our conversation. Talking about the lesson material uses the bulk of the class time. We look at each slide in turn and interact with it. There are different kinds of slides:
    • Vocabulary – a list of words and their definitions. We interact with this by reading it, talking about words and checking for understanding.
    • Reading – a page with a reading section of varying length. We interact with this by reading it (duh!) but also talking about it and asking questions about it.
    • Questions – a list of questions ranging from simple yes/no questions to introspective questions. We interact with these by answering them.
    • Activities – pages with matching, fill in the blank or even drawing activities. We interact with these by giving the students a little space to control the lesson.
  • There are lots of different topics. Let me name a few: travel, health, money, business, children, family, body parts, fruit, vegetables, school, work, office politics, plastic surgery (!!), physics, geography, friendship, history, art and music. There is a huge amount of variety and scope for all kinds of creativity.
  • At the end of the lesson, I use the final two minutes to wrap up and say goodbye. This is just like a normal conversation. Some people get straight to ‘see you later.’ Other people say, “Goodbye… nice to talk with you… have a good day… see you later… awkward pause… bye.” Some lessons end easier than others.

That is basically all there is to it. My role as a coach is to work through the lesson material with the students. As they put their effort in, I praise them for the results and for the effort. When necessary, I make some corrections to their English. These are done gently and in a friendly way.

After a few hundred of these lessons, a method of controlling the time and directing the lesson has emerged that feels very natural for me. Everyone else will teach a bit differently. However, the basics remain the same.

Introduction. Topics. Goodbye.


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Do you want some more information? Read this little article about my web tech setup to see the equipment I use and how much it costs.